Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Nominalisation in High Scoring Primary and Secondary School Persuasive Texts

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Nominalisation in High Scoring Primary and Secondary School Persuasive Texts

Article excerpt

Why learn to write persuasively?

Since the rise of democracy in Ancient Greece, scholars and researchers have explored the persuasive potential of language to influence the minds and actions of others (Andrews, 2014; Aristotle, 322 B.C./2004; Cicero, 55 B.C./1942; Kennedy, 1999). Persuasive speaking and writing are inescapable parts of all democratic societies, as every citizen will inevitably use this kind of language and have it used against them (Corbett & Connors, 1999). The teaching of persuasive writing in schools has been described as a 'democracy sustaining approach to education' (Hess, 2009, p. 5), as increased literacy achievement in this area affords civic activism (Donehower, Hogg & Schell, 2011; Green & Corbett, 2013). Such teaching empowers young people to clearly and purposefully articulate their views on any matter (Corbett & Connors, 1999). Furthermore, it enables them to more easily realise social justice goals, negotiate social relations and engage critically in decision making through the use of language (Humphrey, 2008; Hyland, 2004; Kerkham & Comber, 2013). It is through the creation of persuasive texts that young people can engage with and attempt to influence matters of importance to them and their communities.

Newell, Beach, Smith and VanDerHeide (2011) suggest that persuasive writing should be taught in the early years as the ability to construct cogent arguments represents a crucial skill for academic success in secondary school, college and university across almost every discipline. Argumentation has been described as the single most important means of assessing an individual's later school learning (Schleppegrell, 2004, 2013), and it is the careful scaffolding of persuasive writing skills by teachers throughout the primary years that sets the foundation for future educational achievement (Christie, 2005). Beyond the construction of arguments in school settings, persuasive language is also important for its ability to build knowledge valued in school contexts. Yet despite the importance of learning to write persuasively throughout the school years, many students are greatly challenged by the complexities of persuasion (Kuhn, 1991; Martin, 1989). The differences between students who can and cannot write effective persuasive texts has been highlighted in the results of the National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy [NAPLAN] writing test since 2011.


In 2008, the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA] introduced the NAPLAN tests to assess the reading, writing, language conventions, and numeracy skills of all Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 (ACARA, 2011b). A key goal of these annual tests is to discover how effectively Australian education systems are preparing young people for the literacy and numeracy demands of post-school adult life. While students were required to write narrative texts for the first three years of NAPLAN testing, in 2011 the focus shifted to persuasive texts, which remained the focus in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The NAPLAN national reports (ACARA, 2011c, 2014) indicate that the majority of Australian primary and secondary school students have difficulty writing effective persuasive texts, with 'children from remote areas, lower socioeconomic backgrounds and of Indigenous backgrounds tending to perform less well on all measures of educational achievement' (ACARA, 2011c, p. 63). In general, the more successful minority of students are those who attend schools in metropolitan areas and have parents who have completed a Bachelor degree and who are qualified professionals at the time of the test (ACARA, 2011c). These findings are not unlike research by Martin (1989) nearly three decades ago, which found that 'bright middle-class children learn by osmosis what has to be learned [while] working-class, migrant, or Aboriginal children, whose homes do not provide them with models of writing, and who do not have the coding orientation to read between the lines and see what is implicitly demanded, do not learn to write effectively' (p. …

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